Familiar Landscapes

(There are no pictures in this post, but there are plenty of images.)

When I was very young, I literally did not see the world clearly.

I don’t remember much about what the world looked like before I got my glasses. My earliest memory, that I am certain is real, is of a Christmas bulb, hung on a low branch. It was red and had a train etched onto it in white, raised paint. I saw myself reflected in it. I have always liked the close-up look of things, the details in weaving and texture. I wonder sometimes if this is because, as a very young child, I could only see what was very close.

I remember the ride home from the eye doctor’s after I, finally at age eight, got my first pair of glasses. As we were going over the bridge, I saw that the line across the marsh, the place where the earth met the sky, was made out of trees.

Before, it had just been a blur, but I could then see with clarity that the blur was trees and I knew what trees were and could imagine myself standing under them and so the world, which has just been a distant muddle of color and shape, was then identifiable as a landscape I could make sense of.

I don’t know when I started mapping out the world in my mind, but something about that early insecurity of not being sure about what lay at the edge inspired me to try to try to find out, to try to see.

Growing up on the coast gives you a certain perception of the world as being wide open. The land ends and the rivers, you know, lead to the ocean, which then leads to other lands.

My father had a weather radio that he kept on the shelf in the kitchen and, many afternoons, its alarm would sound, wooowowooowowooo, a terrible sound that would be silenced with some urgency. My mother would cross the kitchen quickly, leaving whatever was on the stove or in the sink, and press the little button that shifted the alarm to talk about whatever storm was coming.

“Severe thunderstorm warning for Camden and Glynn counties. The storm is approaching from the North/Northeast at 12 knots per hour. Heavy rains are expected, with wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour.”

After dinner, we’d watch the lightning and the sheets of rain roll across the march, the storm as predicted, coming in from the ocean.

Because my brother and I had a boat, a small boat, I learned that some creeks led to others and that in some places you could cut through the marsh and in other places you couldn’t. I found shortcuts and passages that I held in my mind. Watching my parents get smaller as they waved from the bank, I understood something about distance and scale.

I saw how the land hugged the water and how it was changed by it. The house I grew up in will probably fall into the river someday, because the river has gotten bigger.

We used to find pottery in the dirt we dug in the garden, near the barn where there were once horses, but weren’t anymore. The wood on the walls of our bathroom had been torn from a house abandoned in the woods that we lived in. We’d pass the chimneys still standing in the woods every morning on the way to school.

So, I always understood that things change.

When the Navy came, just a couple of years after I had gotten my glasses, I understood that it was a big deal. I knew what fences meant and what bulldozers did.

I watched as the trees at the edge of the town were cut down, the fields paved over for parking.

I witnessed the woods that we lived in being destroyed. I saw how the yellow machines tore at the earth, holding roots in their teeth, leaving the soil scraped deep and clean.

My school became crowded with military kids, kids proud to call themselves “brats.” Many of them were cruel.

“That house is full of witches!” They’d say, about the house by the railroad tracks. The people who lived there would lay down on the tracks, trying to stop the trains that carried something that I understood only as “very bad” out to the base.

Living on the coast, you learn a lot about life and death. You see, very young, that the world does not stay the same and, in this, you must reckon with how old it really is…in the markers at the edge of the roads, the pages of history books, and the bones that you find in the earth itself at the edge of the water.

I could never pretend that any of this was anything more than fleeting. Yet I saw that we create change and that, in so many ways, what we create can outlast us for centuries.

I never thought much about God. It was, I was told, an idea that some people believed in about the good of the world and the way we should live. God was, to me, all bunched up in the seams of the scratchy dress that I had to wear to church, the few times that we went.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned more about God from the feeling of walking out of church than I did from any sermon. The doors would open and the adults would stand around, but I would run out into the sun, thankful to be done with Sunday morning.
The feeling of sunlight and the smell of fresh air were, to me, far more enlightening than the sonorous words of a fat man behind a podium.

Later, when I did start thinking about God, I thought about insects, birds, and soil first.

What would these things know of God? What was their connection? Was it in the reverberation of a bees wings? In the slow thrum of summer?

Was it in the long flight home?
Did the rocks themselves hold onto to anything from the past?

There is alchemy all around, as dogs dead and buried become bones become flowers and fruits.

They say that God created everything. So, God must be in everything.

What is life? A series of exchanges, a conversion of electricity?

I knew that when two cells happen upon one another, things happen, a small spark is made.

Would the tremor and charge that lead to our first heartbeat be the birth of our souls?

Where does that electricity go when we die?

Up into the air, out into the trees?

Do we hold our shape, do we hold our rhythm and our pattern?

Do our feelings at the moment that we die somehow go on?

To me, this thing that is called God is very real. It is electricity and it is nature. It works through everything.

This isn’t an uncommon idea. However, it doesn’t seem that most people are consciously aware of the persistence of these workings.

I don’t even like talking about God. It is a useless term. It means nothing, because it means so many different things to so many different people. It is a word that fails to accurately convey information.

Yet, what other words are there? The universe? The multiverse? The metaverse?


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